Area’s State Rep Hopes To Close Retail Theft Loophole

POTTSTOWN PA – Pennsylvania Rep. Tom Quigley thinks giving first-time offenders a break in sentencing for comparatively minor crimes “is valuable,” but if they don’t learn from their mistakes the legislator who represents Pottstown, Lower Pottsgrove, and Limerick in the state House wants to ensure justice is served.

"Five-finger discount" in action

The House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday (June 21, 2011) approved Quigley’s proposed law to treat repeat violations of retail theft as more severe for individuals who have completed an accelerated rehabilitation program. The proposal would close a loophole that became apparent during a recent court case, and which was pointed out to Quigley by detectives in the Limerick (PA) Police Department.

The proposal now goes before the full House for consideration.

The rehab program is the state’s way of giving first-timers their break. It’s often used in driving under the influence violations, and amounts to a probationary sentence that usually involves a fine, temporary loss of a driver’s license, or other lesser punishments. It can be used, too, in cases that involve shoplifting, the theft of goods from a retail store.

Once individuals complete rehabilitation, charges against them can be dismissed as though they never happened. For repeat offenders, the first-time crime normally is resurrected so harsher punishments can be imposed.

Where retail thefts were involved, though, language about thieves who participated in rehab wasn’t sufficiently clear, according to a Pennsylvania Superior Court ruling in a case called Commonwealth v. Graeff. More severe punishments might not apply to them, the court determined. Quigley’s proposal would address that problem, he said.

His House Bill 1603 would allow prosecutors to charge defendants who participated in rehabilitation but continue to break Pennsylvania’s retail theft law with a second-degree misdemeanor. “Retail theft is not a victimless crime,” Quigley noted. “Businesses lose billions of dollars annually to retail theft, and it’s paying customers who absorb those costs.”